Vimukthi Jayasundara is the director of The Forsaken Land, which was awarded the Camera d'Or at the 2005 Cannes Film Festival. Jayasundara previously directed a documentary called The Land of Silence in 2001 and a short, Empty for Love, in 2002.
David Schwartz, chief curator of the Museum of the Moving Image, where The Forsaken Land was screened, had this to say: "While its haunting images evoke the films of Tarkovsky, and it has the laconic humor of Samuel Beckett, The Forsaken Land is the work of an important and original new film director."
This interview was conducted via telephone on June 27, 2006, while Jayasundara was in Paris.
What was the inspiration for your film The Forsaken Land? And did you have a particular audience in mind?
Not at all. This is my first feature film. Before I did this, I had made two films: one is a documentary and one is a short film about the conflict in Sri Lanka. The documentary is about disabled army soldiers, and while I was working on it, I recorded a lot of stories about the soldiers and their backgrounds, their families, and their experiences in the war.
By soldiers, you mean those in the Sri Lankan national army?
Yes, Sri Lankan army soldiers. Then I became very much interested in finding more information and going and visiting these areas. I wanted to make a film there, and I did a short film called Empty for Love. We shot the film in the border villages, the two frontiers between Tamil Tiger-controlled areas and Sri Lankan army-controlled areas. I thought that when I come to my first feature, I should go deeper to make a feature about the war in a different way. So that was the inspiration.
What about audience?
To be very frank, I did not have any experience with audiences for my last film, my short film. It just went to film festivals and things like that. So I did not really think about audience at all. I thought maybe I should make a film first to have a certificate for being qualified as a director. After having made two short films, I still wasn't qualified as a director, so I thought about making my first feature. To get a title called "director" is more important than anything else! So I made this film to get that title!
The film seems to waver between a comment on the human condition in general and on the condition of war. What do you think is the relation between the two?
Any war film, when you call it such - and we have seen thousands of war films coming from Hollywood or other parts of the world - is generally called an "action" film, as you know. But in my experience, war in Sri Lanka or elsewhere, there is not that kind of "action" in the war. So the war in action films is completely fabricated, fictionalized by the filmmakers. None of us experience the real war and the real results of the war in that way. So I thought of putting it a different way, by completely removing the subject called "action" from the film, but of course keeping the action that is there in day-to-day life, normal people, how they behave, how they act in normal life.
And what about the film being a comment on the human condition in general?
Can you explain what you are asking me to respond to?
The kind of alienation that your characters experience is of course, in a sense, particular to the situation of war/not-war they find themselves in, but it also seems to be far more generalizable to people in all sorts of contexts: the alienated relationships they have with one another, the isolation they experience, all of this seems to be a quite general problem. So to what extent do you think that the kinds of relations you were depicting could also be said to exist outside of the context of war?
Even if I were not making this film with war as the backdrop, I could make it somewhere else, that is for sure. This is the way I see human life. I could make this film in Paris and I would have these sorts of characters definitely, or in New York or New Delhi or elsewhere. I think that is the new condition of human being: disconnected, without any communication; even if we are building very sophisticated communication tools, there is still such a lack of communication as individual human beings. I think that's the main reason I put the characters in that way. It can happen in a war situation or anywhere in the world in different conditions.
Next: "We are all just waiting, killing time, being manipulated by the two parties."